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The Partly Cloudy Patriot

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Sarah Vowell travels through the American past and, in doing so, investigates the dusty, bumpy roads of her own life. In this insightful and funny collection of personal stories Vowell—widely hailed for her inimitable stories on public radio's This American Life—ponders a number of curious questions: Why is she happiest when visiting the sites of bloody struggles like Salem or Gettysburg? Why do people always inappropriately compare themselves to Rosa Parks? Why is a bad life in sunny California so much worse than a bad life anywhere else? What is it about the Zen of foul shots? And, in the title piece, why must doubt and internal arguments haunt the sleepless nights of the true patriot?

Her essays confront a wide range of subjects, themes, icons, and historical moments: Ike, Teddy Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton; Canadian Mounties and German filmmakers; Tom Cruise and Buffy the Vampire Slayer; twins and nerds; the Gettysburg Address, the State of the Union, and George W. Bush's inauguration.

The result is a teeming and engrossing book, capturing Vowell's memorable wit and her keen social commentary.

197 pages, Paperback

First published August 27, 2002

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About the author

Sarah Vowell

24 books3,029 followers
Sarah Jane Vowell is an American author, journalist, humorist, and commentator. Often referred to as a "social observer," Vowell has authored several books and is a regular contributor to the radio program This American Life on Public Radio International. She was also the voice of Violet in the animated film The Incredibles and a short documentary, VOWELLET - An Essay by SARAH VOWELL in the "Behind the Scenes" extras of The Incredibles DVD Release.

She earned a B.A. from Montana State University in 1993 in Modern Languages and Literatures and an M.A. in Art History at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1996. Vowell received the Music Journalism Award in 1996.

Vowell is a New York Times’ bestselling author of five nonfiction books on American history and culture. Her most recent book is Unfamiliar Fishes (2011), which reviews the takeover of Hawaii's property and politics first by white missionaries from the United States and later joined by American plantation growers, ultimately resulting in a Coup d'état, restricted voting rights for nonwhites, and forced statehood for the small chain of islands. Her earlier book, The Wordy Shipmates (2008), examines the New England Puritans and their journey to and impact on America. She studies John Winthrop’s 1630 sermon “A Model of Christian Charity” – and the bloody story that resulted from American exceptionalism. And she also traces the relationship of Winthrop, Massachusetts’ first governor, and Roger Williams, the Calvinist minister who founded Rhode Island – an unlikely friendship that was emblematic of the polar extremes of the American foundation. Throughout, she reveals how American history can show up in the most unexpected places in our modern culture, often in unexpected ways.

Her book Assassination Vacation (2005) describes a road trip to tourist sites devoted to the murders of presidents Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. Vowell examines what these acts of political violence reveal about our national character and our contemporary society.

She is also the author of two essay collections, The Partly Cloudy Patriot (2002) and Take the Cannoli (2000). Her first book Radio On: A Listener's Diary (1997), is her year-long diary of listening to the radio in 1995.

Her writing has been published in The Village Voice, Esquire, GQ, Spin, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the SF Weekly, and she has been a regular contributor to the online magazine Salon. She was one of the original contributors to McSweeney’s, also participating in many of the quarterly’s readings and shows.

In 2005, Vowell served as a guest columnist for The New York Times during several weeks in July, briefly filling in for Maureen Dowd. Vowell also served as a guest columnist in February 2006, and again in April 2006.

In 2008, Vowell contributed an essay about Montana to the book State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,567 reviews
Profile Image for Kim.
286 reviews776 followers
October 4, 2008
I love Sarah Vowell. I can't say that enough. She re-affirms my belief that someone out there gets 'it'. That... it's not crazy to have these thoughts. (well, some of them, anyway). I'm not even sure that 're-affirms' is the word I'm looking for. I don't know... I'm just extremely grateful...

I'll admit that I”m not one to eagerly debate American politics, the economy or foreign policy, I'm just not articu-literary enough in that way. As you can see, I like to make up words and then people don't really take me seriously, you know? I've always just figured that what I felt was common sense---I just assume that people, when presented with the facts, can see how inane, well... the last eight years have been.

A majority of The Partly Cloudy Patriot revolves around the 2000 Presidential election. Back when I was naive-when I thought that the choice was so obvious that any other outcome was inconceivable. Damn---was I proven wrong. There is this one part where she is describing the 2000 inauguration that comes to mind:

“I told myself I came down to 'protest'. But I choose to display my dissent by bursting into tears as Bush finishes up his oath. Alas, my tears are my picket sign. It's happened. It's over. He's it.”

Oh, I just want to hug her.

And then I read the essay The Partly Cloudy Patriot, her narrative of NYC immediately after 9/11...her passion for the idea of 'America'... when she has a hissy fit because the VFW placed a flag on her lawn during a 4th of July parade and called them up screaming 'The whole point of that goddamn flag is that people don't stick flags in my yard without asking me!' and then goes on to quote Thomas Paine???

I will admit that I didn't cry over the 2000 election, I think I was too stunned. It wasn't going to happen, you know? People were going to smarten up? It was surreal. I can't say the same for 2004, there were tears, soon replaced by complete disillusionment.

Sarah's essay entitled 'Dear Dead Congressman' is my favorite. I think that all, ALL, high schoolers should read this. An homage to her first voting experience, a wonderful recount of Letterman's tirade about being called a 'non-voting republican' (Have you heard about this? Oh, please google it) and finishing up with:

“During the New Hampshire primary I got in a screaming fight with candidate Gary Bauer – okay, I screamed, he didn't – who had just whipped out a little paperback copy of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution out of his pocket and said that anyone who doesn't believe in God, doesn't believe in those documents because of the phrase 'endowed by their Creator.' I told him that, on the contrary, those documents for me have superceded God, that they are my Bible.”

This collection of essays was bittersweet. I felt her frustration, I enjoyed her family stories, but mostly, I'm so so so appreciative of her. She gives me real hope. She is what is getting me through these next 32 days of mavericks, joe six-packs, and hockey moms.

Thank you again Sarah
Profile Image for Ciara.
Author 3 books347 followers
May 27, 2009
straight up, i am really not a fan of sarah vowell's love affair with american exceptionalism & naked liberal partisanship. there were parts of this book that made me throw it down in disgust. like the piece about sarah & her nerdy politco internet buddies going to george w. bushe's first inauguration, to "witness" the fact that not every american just stood around & did nothing while the election was stolen, blah blah blah, yeah, standing on the mall & crying your eyes out sure is going to change the world. anyway. she says that she had an epiphany that "this country enslaved people, we got the president we deserved". uh...i think there are an awful lot of black americans who are probably pretty unimpressed with the fact that the united states used to permit slavery, & probably also did not vote for george w. bush. i can't even put it into words at this point because it's so mind-boggling, but does sarah vowell think that only white people read her books? it's like she doesn't event ATTEMPT to consider any other audience. & i know, i know, when you're on national public radio as often as she is, it stands to reason that your audience is going to be mostly white people. but still!

& then there was her piece about how obnoxious it is when people compare themselves to rosa parks. because, you know, rosa parks was such a unique individual, flying in the face of institutionalized racism, a lone freedom fighter in the shape of a weary middle-aged lady just trying to get home after a long day, sparking off the civil rights movement with her renegade refusal to give up her seat on the bus. this is what we have been taught, & this is the bright shiny pretty idea that sarah vowell clings to with all her heart. never mind that the bus boycotts were orchestrated in advance, & rosa parks was specially selected from among all these people already working tirelessly on tedious but well-organized civil rights campaigns, to specifically get on a bus, refuse to give up her seat, & become the face of civil rights. i know well-organized activist campaigns that manipulate people's heart strings with good PR aren't really as stirring to the heart of a patriot as the mythos of the charismatic individual bucking the system & ignoting the hearts of the people, but...the reality of pragmatic political organizing is a lot more exciting to me personally.

& this is my entire issue with sarah vowell. she buys into all the myths of american history--jefferson can be forgiven for owning (& raping) slaves because he was such an awesome writer. lincoln was a stirring orator who wept at the idea that another human being would be enslaved. teddy roosevelt was a charming, sad nerd. rosa parks was just a regular everyday lady with no connection to the civil rights movement before her singular decision on a bus one day broke everything wide open. american exceptionlism NEEDS these myths to survive, but they're just a bunch of bullshit. the reality is a lot more complicated, a lot murkier. it means looking at one's heroes & acknowledging that they were deeply flawed & conflicted. it means acknowledging that history is not inevitable, & that the nice guys on white horses aren't going to swoop in & save you if you wait patiently enough. she actually says at one point that she takes it for a fact that people in other parts of the world "hate us for being american". um...okay, george w. bush. seriously, WTF? i have never thought that anyone hated americans just for being americans. i can understand that maybe they hate the united states because the u.s. is a imperialist superpower whose control of the world has been founded on the oppression, extermination, & marginalization of millions & millions of people.

whatever. basically, i hated this book & i don't get people who love sarah vowell. her worldview is so facile. there is a way to interface with the things you love about your life, your surroundings, your political engagement, whatever, without this kind of bullshit partisan hand-over-heart cornebread & cheese.
Profile Image for Ashley Marie .
1,236 reviews382 followers
August 30, 2016
Definitely reading more Sarah Vowell after this. And for as much as I cringed from time to time listening to her read (because it didn't sound very natural), I have to recommend the audio for the supporting cast of Stephen Colbert, Conan O'Brien, Seth Green, et al.
Profile Image for Mike.
483 reviews375 followers
July 22, 2017
The title of this book derives from Thomas Paine's pamphlet The Crisis:
These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
While the content of the book is by no means as heavy or serious as Mr. Paine's writing, this book was released during an interesting time in America's history. Namely the aftermath of 9/11 and several of the essays in this book deal with Vowell's complex relationship with her country and how she feels about it.

On the one hand Vowell proclaims a love of her country and its values, but she also doesn't like the direction the country is headed. She already didn't like W as president and she was getting put off by the aggressiveness of flag wavers using the flag as a symbol to separate and dominate instead of as a uniting beacon. She isn't a sunshine patriot but she also has qualms about what was happening to the country she loved. Hence the Partly Cloudy Patriot.

I found her writings about the politics of the time very fascinating given what America is faced with today. Her experience of seeing the country she loved take a weird slant into a mockery of what made it great certainly resonates today. I can't help but feel some of the same things she went through in 2000/2001 are the same ones I have today. Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but it is definitely a thing.

She also talks about a lot of other stuff as well: her family visiting her in NYC for the first time, her interactions with the curators of several presidential libraries, her love of Abraham Lincoln. And the writing is often quite funny without trying too hard.

This book was easy to breeze through but I did find the collection of essays a bit disjointed. There wasn't really a coherent idea, thread, or theme that wove through all of them. It came off more like a mere collection of random essays than a book that brought them together in a meaningful way. Still, I found myself enjoying the essays on their own even if they were mostly unrelated to each other.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,602 reviews2,574 followers
August 10, 2018
(3.5) Essays on politics, culture and personal life from an unabashed U.S. history nerd. I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as Assassination Vacation, and once again the material feels a little bit dated, but this is still valuable commentary on the nauseating surge of faux patriotism after 9/11 (the title piece), the suspicion of intelligence and passionate interests that ultimately explains Al Gore’s loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 election (“The Nerd Voice,” the centerpiece of the book), and the enduring, if mythical, appeal of the American West (“This Strenuous Life”). I particularly liked the essay in the form of a letter to Bill Clinton advising him not to leave out the bad stuff in the exhibits at his new presidential library (“Ike Was a Handsome Man”) and one about the mostly harmless but kitschy commercialization of America’s national parks by way of the underground lunchroom at Carlsbad Caverns. I got through 180 of the book’s 197 pages on one rainy day, so that tells you it’s pretty compulsive reading.

Favorite lines:

“Along with voting, jury duty, and paying taxes, goofing off is one of the central obligations of American citizenship.”

“Being a nerd, which is to say going too far and caring too much about a subject, is the best way to make friends I know.”

“The true American patriot is by definition skeptical of the government. … My ideal picture of citizenship will always be an argument, not a sing-along.”
Profile Image for shellyindallas .
107 reviews30 followers
March 22, 2008
Aside from herself, Conan O'Brien, Seth Green, Stephen Colbert, and David Cross read on the audio version. That right there is enough to make the content not even matter. But it does. This is my introduction to Sarah Vowell and my favorite of her work.
I especially remember the story about Concord High School in New Hampshire inviting all the 2000 presidential candidates to speak. Half accepted, including Al Gore. This was 1999, the same year as Columbine, and the candidates were asked to speak about violent crime. After Gore spoke Vowell interviewed some of the students about his speech and many of them were impressed; telling how they felt he respected them as people, and didn't just view them as kids.
He talked about the importance of the insulation of a loving family and how that might keep someone immune from committing those types of things (school shootings). Then, there was a Q&A and one of the kids asked how high school students could become more involved in politics. Gore went on to talk about how there's a lot of cynicism in the world, especially among youth and then encouraged the kids to look inside themselves and see how lucky they are to live in this country. He talked about long voting lines in new democracies like S. Africa where people waited hours to vote. As opposed to here in the US where we have low voter turnout. Further encouraging the kids to get involved he told the story of Love Canal. How a high school student had wrote him a letter 20 years ago about how her family was getting sick and she believed the water coming from her well was contaminated. This encouraged Gore to look for other contaminated water sites and clean up hazardous dump sites. He said to the kids that "It (Love Canal) was the one that started it all", and was misquoted in the paper the next morning as saying "I was the one that started it all". Aside from that being an anecdote about the power of the media to spin things out of control, what's so touching about the way Vowell shares the story is how upset the kids were that an experience that had been so positive and a story that was meant to be motivating, was turned into this cheap, salacious news piece about what a liar Al Gore is. No talk about what he'd said about school violence, no talk about how he'd encouraged the kids to get involved and to not take their status as an American citizen for granted, just--Al Gore's a big fat liar who claims to have invented the internet, was the real life person behind Ryan O'Neal's character in Love Story, and discovered Love Canal.
Profile Image for simon.
56 reviews36 followers
September 14, 2008
ok. i almost gave this book 2 stars because it was cheesy in an NPR/This American Life/The Onion/Obama sort of way. its a book about patriotism and skepticism and being american and thinking about what that means. and really really liking america. i mean, with a conscious and all, but really liking them red white and blue things. so that's the part that made it difficult to swallow.

but sort of stuck in there are really moments of insight and good writing that warranted another perspective. her musings on al gore and the 2000 election are pretty right on, and the chapter on selling maps and the history of geography were really good and very amusing to a history dork like myself. she's got hella nerd pride alongside her patriotism, which is what let me even finish the book.

i would imagine she has better books b/c this one makes it seem like she either has, or is about to, write a really good book, which i look forward to reading. in the meantime, this book was really nice to have a long for 8 hours in a waiting room for sure.
Profile Image for Kristy Miller.
405 reviews86 followers
January 17, 2018
I first read The Partly Cloudy Patriot about 10 or 11 years ago, during the W era. Since it was only about 5 years old at the time, it hadn't aged badly at all. Reading it now, in the Era of Trump, it all seems so tame and naive. Who knew that I would one day long for the willful befuddlement of George W. Bush? I love Sarah's writing, but this collection of essays isn't as strong as her books with a singular subject. Still a solid read.
Profile Image for Michelle.
375 reviews4 followers
July 31, 2013
Well, I have to admit I was partly cloudy as to what essentially this book was supposed to be about. Is it an exploration of a history nerd's civic pride? Her dabbles in Americana? Memoir? Random thoughts about cultural what-not? Social commentary on the state of government and politics in this country? Yes to all of the above! And this is why I remain fuzzy with regards to whether or not I truly enjoyed reading this book.

Sarah Vowell's novel of essays gets off to a great start with a piece about America's most beloved president Abe Lincoln that was truly compelling. Her thoughtful and insightful writing actually made me question my own civic pride. Or more specifically: where did my civic pride go? I was once like Vowell- a history geek with a penchant for all things civics. I was on the Constitutional Civics debate team in high school, and like Vowell, also couldn't wait to turn 18 so I could vote. She rekindled my curiosity about turning points in our country. Have I even read the Gettysburg Address? Do I really know the details behind The Civil War? Can I quote Thomas Paine? Do I even remember who Thomas Paine is? The answer is mostly likely "Probably Not" to all. That Vowell manages to be educational, whimsical, charming, and thought provoking all at the same time is a feat for any writer and even though I am familiar with her work from NPR's "This American Life", I was still surprised just the same.

However, for every essay that makes me analyze our government and our duty as a patriot, she tempers it with a non sequitur essay about Tom Cruise, or working at a map store, or an ode to a deceased football coach, among others. Her shift from topic to topic actually made it hard for me to fully engage in the book. Again, it became a question of what is this book really about? I guess you could make the argument that all of these essays really have something to say about America in general: our obsession with the good ol' American boy next-door Tom Cruise, for example, or America's favorite violent past time, football. But that is not what these essays were about, at least that is not the point of view I got from Vowell. What I sensed was that these essays were filler for a novel that is supposed to be about her adventures in America as a hard core patriot and she lacked enough material to make her case.

Even David Sedaris's books of essays- another "This American Life" alum and probably the most celebrated- work the best when there is a through-line. Without a central theme, Vowell's novel feels like a cast off collection of certain essays she couldn't get published elsewhere. I mean, I'm all for variation and not every essay has to be similar in tone as the previous one. However, following up a particularly intriguing piece about Gore's presidential campaign and sensational journalism with an essay about her love of pop-a-shot basketball, I found myself scratching my head. It's ok to bring in comic relief, but even comic relief should have something to say and this essay about basketball. as well as a few others on similar fluffy topics, really didn't say much. Its placement in the book easily diminished some of the power behind her points of view.

Furthermore, not only do David Sedaris and Sarah Vowel have unique writing styles, they also have have unique speaking voices and many of their pieces are often better understood and appreciated when heard read aloud by the writer. Anyone familiar with Vowell from the radio or interviews will know that she has a strong lisp and a higher pitched voice than most. And I don't mean to be sexist, but you are almost completely taken aback that such brilliant and hysterical commentary can come from such a voice. Several of the pieces in "Partly Cloudy Patriot" I think I would have enjoyed better had I actually heard her speaking them aloud. Her writing tends to lend itself to aural storytelling and in the case of "Underground Lunchroom" and "The Strenuous Life" (essays from the book), some of the charm is lost because they don't have her quirky voice to go with them.

What I do love about Sarah Vowell and reading her books or listening to her on the radio is that she is a fantastic observationist. She sees the world from a true citizen's point of view- caught in the eternal conflict of loving her country and being dissatisfied with her place in it as a citizen. I absolutely adore the following quotes that best reveal who she is, her world view, and what makes her writing so compelling when she's right on track:

"I'm a sucker for Puritan New England and the Civil War. Because those two subjects feature the central tension of American life, the conflict between freedom and community, between individual will and the public good...I'm two parts loner and one part joiner, so I feel at home delving into the epic struggles for togetherness".

"The most remarkable thing about the Mounties was their mandate: one law. One law for everyone, Indian or white. The United States makes a big to-do about all men being created equal, but we're still working out the kinks of turning that idea into actual policy".

"Walking in New York is a battle of the wills, a balance of aggression and kindness. I'm not saying it's always easy. The occasional 'Watch where you're going, bitch' can, I admit, put a crimp in one's day. But I believe all the choreography has made me a better person. The other day, in the subway at 5:30, I was crammed into my sweaty, crabby fellow citizens, and I kept whispering under my breath 'we the people, we the people'...reminding myself that we're all in this together and they had as much right- exactly as much right- as I to be in the muggy underground on their way to wherever..."

So why ultimately the 2 stars instead of 3? When I finished the book and then proceeded to read the copyright information (as I always do for some reason when I am done with a book), I discovered that 11 out of 19 essays had been previously published elsewhere. Considering that I already had a problem following the logic of the book based on its mish-mashed theme, I felt this is almost lazy book selling at its best. Also taking into consideration it's not a long novel anyway, 11 essays means over a third of the book is not new material. This just bothered me, especially since almost half of these 11 previously published essays- including pieces about New German cinema, shooting hoops, Thanksgiving with her family, Tom Cruise, and dead football coach Tom Landry, really had no business being in the book anyway.

Recently I saw an interview with Sarah Vowell on The Daily Show, talking about the posthumous release of deceased essayist David Rakoff's latest novel. She was absolutely whip-smart, funny, and her jabs and zingers even threw well-seasoned comedian John Oliver for a complete loop. I wish the same energy, vibe, and humor had been applied to this book. Granted, "Partly Cloudy Patriot" is over 10 years old, so she has probably had plenty of time to refine her humor, and I hope, write much more focused books.
Profile Image for Alan.
1,101 reviews107 followers
May 28, 2022
Sarah Vowell is no psychic, and more than one of the observations in her essay collection The Partly Cloudy Patriot—which was, after all, compiled and published in 2002—have been overtaken by reality, as the 21st Century has lurched and shambled through its disappointing first couple of decades.

The naïveté (that I think we all shared, at the time) of this vision now seems ironic in more ways than one, for example:
"The Internet is the nerd Israel, a place to speak and listen to spectacularly specific concerns."
And I can't help but cringe when Vowell asserts,
Still, sometimes I think the true American flag has always been the one with the snake hissing, "Don't Tread on Me."
Little did she know how that image would be—was already being—coopted by wingnuts with their own anti-American agendas.

However, a lot of The Partly Cloudy Patriot is still spot-on and even timely. The title essay, in particular, still strikes home—Sarah Vowell is a patriot like me, after all, who approaches the United States with a sharp tongue, open eyes and—yeah, absolutely—a bleeding heart:
I was one of the hundreds of people standing in the mud on the Washington Mall on January 20 at the inauguration of George W. Bush. Everyone standing there in the cold rain had very strong feelings. It was either/or. Either you beamed through the ceremony with smiles of joy, or you wept through it all with tears of rage. I admit, I was one of the people there who needed a hankie when it was over. At the end of the ceremony, it was time to sing the national anthem. Some of the dissenters refused to join in. Such was their anger at their country at that moment they couldn't find it in their hearts to sing. But I was standing there next to my friend Jack, and Jack and I put our hands over our hearts and sang that song loud. Because we love our country too. Because we wouldn't have been standing there, wouldn't have driven down to Washington just to burst into tears if we didn't care so very, very much about how this country is run.
—from "The Partly Cloudy Patriot," p.169

In short: Sarah Vowell really gets it—she understands precisely why the idea and ideal of "America" remains important, even as the clouds gather, and why you can't just outlaw certain words to fix it—and maybe that's why her own words still resonate with me now, twenty years down the line.

The last time I picked up one of Vowell's books was in 2011; I read Unfamiliar Fishes in June of that year.

I should not have waited so long to read more.
Profile Image for Anika.
Author 7 books8 followers
August 26, 2009
After reading the first essay in this compliation I wanted to like this book. I looked forward to more of the same genuine feeling and witty sentiment in which Sarah ensconces her experiences at Gettysburg, Salem, the 2000 inaguration, and the Carlsbad Caverns. Unfortunately these humorus and profound pieces are punctuated with seemingly irrelevant, meandering musings thematically tangental to the patriotic tone set by the title, the cover, and the opening piece. And while I understand the value of such ramblings, thier place is usually on ones personal computer or in a journal tucked away somewhere rather than amongst a series of essays that seek to deal seriously with the topic of contradiction in American living. And if their inclusion is supposed to be some kind of preformative affirmation of those inherrant contradictions, it feels contirved and doesn't flow naturally at all. Speaking of contrived, the ridiculous illustrations that pop up every now and again are totally distracting and only add to the "slapped together" feel of the whole book.

Furthermore, her inability to refrain from vulgarlity quickly lowers my respect for her as a writer. Anyone who can't express a sentiment without reverting to the "f" word strikes me as unimaginative and inarticulate. I wanted to like this book. I wanted to lose myself within the dry wit and unexpected metaphors, but in the end all I can say is that of all the books I've ever read, this is one of them.
Profile Image for Cormacjosh.
114 reviews2 followers
June 20, 2014
The third of three books given to me as a Christmas gift in 2012.

This book consists of a collection of essays, Ms. Vowell's opinions filtered through Government schools, and an overbearing "I am NPR, therefore I am smarter than you." attitude.
I am sorry that I read these books at the time in my life that I did; I think if I had read them earlier when my opinion of NPR was better than it is today, I might have enjoyed them better. As it is, in all three cases Ms. Vowell just comes across as an annoying moron with a superiority complex.

I will say this, the essay titled "Democracy and Things Like That", regarding media manipulation of facts, was actually good, and her admiration for the Gadsden flag is highly amusing, since in recent times NPR has led the charge in declaring it a symbol of racism and domestic terrorism.

This is the last book in the set that I have, and for that, I rejoice. Glad to move on to other things. What else can I say but that it is the thought that counts?
Profile Image for John.
12 reviews
April 25, 2007
This book was very entertaining. I was surprised by some of the author's dead-on observations and ability to step back and examine her own zealotry.

A good example is her essay on the kerfuffle over Al Gore mentioning Love Canal while speaking at a high school. AG was misquoted and "discovered Love Canal" was added to the list of undeserved credits claimed by AG. The author was able to take a step back from her obvious boner for AG and reflect on the irrelevance of a misquote if the result confirms public perception or even reality.

One small gripe, by the last essay the rhythm and humor became somewhat predictable.

I give "The Partly Cloudy Patriot" 4 boners for Al Gore out of 5.
Profile Image for Ben.
177 reviews5 followers
December 7, 2014
2002 was a simpler time.

George W. Bush had just stolen the presidency, terrorists had attacked on American soil, and we were launching ourselves into an illegal war -- ah, those were the days.

The twelve years of endless combat, financial collapse, and increasing national division that have intervened now make that 2002 America, portrayed in this book, seem like a Normal Rockwell painting.

So, if you're interested in a trip down Memory Lane to those halcyon days when you felt freshly outraged and afraid, not yet resignedly outraged and afraid, grab a copy of this book.
Profile Image for Jill Kleis.
278 reviews9 followers
May 26, 2015
Some parts were funny and interesting, some parts were rant-y and irritating, some parts were just boring. A mixed bag that averages out on the unlikeable side.
Profile Image for Melissa.
1,076 reviews71 followers
April 28, 2017
Unlike some of Sarah Vowell's books, this one was a collection of essays, stories, and letters and not focused on just one historical area....that being said her huge amount of historical knowledge paired with her wry wit and humor was, as always, a joy for me to listen to, even if some of the stories were a bit dated (it was published in 2002) I still enjoyed laughs and heartbreak about the 2000 election FBAR, the new surge of Patriotism after 9/11, her letter to the outgoing POTUS about how to handle scandal in his future Presidential Library (based on her observations in other Presidential libraries), and her many asides about the quirky corny country this is and all the goofy things we do here in America. Loved her reflections on Thanksgiving, State Parks, and the diddy included about managing your anxieties by focusing on how much worse things could be: 'Andersonville, Gallows's Hill...it could be worse!' 😂
Profile Image for Katherine Addison.
Author 16 books2,798 followers
December 13, 2018
Collection of short pieces: essays and reviews on a variety of subjects, but as the title suggests, America--both the idea and the reality--remains central throughout. Vowell is sharp and funny and has a gift for seeing things from odd angles. She has a great essay, for instance, on Tom Cruise, "Tom Cruise Makes Me Nervous," where she says, "Tom Cruise is the most talented actor of all time at keeping his distance" (128) which I think is a beautiful summation.

Because her writing seems always to criss-cross the verge of memoir, there's continuity with Assassination Vacation (the nephew who is three in AV is 7 months in TPCP), which contributes to the charming and sometimes disquieting sense that Vowell is truly baring her soul, telling us, her readers, things she can't tell anyone else. Telling secrets publicly is, after all, what memoir is for. Not always bad secrets or earth-shattering secrets, just the secrets about how the memoirist felt at a particular moment, what she thinks about when she's alone--all the things that we DON'T tell other people, but can tell a world-ful of faceless strangers. (I don't talk about my true crime obsession much with the people around me. I talk about it with you.)

Knowing that she works in radio and having listened to AV twice, I think that part of what makes Vowell a great essayist is her literal voice: the way she delivers her own sentences. I enjoyed TPCP (except for the eerie sense of deja vu in watching her angst about George W.'s administration and thinking, oh honey. Because, wow, yes, Dubya was a terrible, war criminal, deeply stupid president and, yes, I think he cheated Gore, so in some ways, Trump really is the repetition of history that those who do not study it are doomed to. Only they forgot to mention it's worse the second time around.), but I have the sneaking sensation I would have enjoyed it more with Sarah Vowell reading it to me.
Profile Image for Maggie.
342 reviews8 followers
June 1, 2008
This was great both as a work of literature and as an audiobook. Sarah Vowell is funny, articulate, and wise; there's something to be said for writing so good that it makes you actually want to visit boring historical sites (Gettysburg and Salem, specifically). Part memoir and part history lesson, this was in every way fun to listen to. As an added bonus, Conan O'Brien performs as Lincoln, Stephen Colbert does Al Gore (brilliantly), and David Cross reads TR's lines.
I liked this book so much on audio that I ordered a real copy so I'd have somewhere to mark all the passages I loved, like this one:

"Being stuck in the Boise airport for ten hours while getting hit on by a divorced man with 'major financial problems' on his way to his twentieth high school reunion is irksome, but not as dire as swinging by the neck on Salem's Gallows Hill."

and this one:

"I was enjoying a chocolatey cafe mocha when it occurred to me hat to drink a mocha is to gulp down the entire history of the New World. From the Spanish exportation of Aztec cacao, and the Dutch invention of the chemical process for making cocoa, on down to the capitalist empire of Hershey, PA, and the lifestyle marketing of Seattle's Starbucks, the modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top. No wonder it costs so much."

All in all, fantastic book. Great wit, great ideas, great sentences, and great audio version.
Profile Image for Paul Pessolano.
1,334 reviews39 followers
October 11, 2017
“The Partly Cloudy Patriot” by Sarah Vowell, published by Simon & Schuster.

Category – Politics Publication Date – 2002

Although this book is dated the material is still fresh and relevant. The category I picked for this book is Politics but I could just have picked Humor or History.

Sarah Vowell takes us on her personal journey through the political world as she grows up. It is hard to imagine but she was fascinated by government since she was a young girl.

Her journey goes from a Thanksgiving Dinner to a tour of Salem, Ma. and the infamous witch trials. She also takes on any president, both Democrat and Republican, and takes no prisoners.

Sarah doesn’t forget the movie industry as she takes on Tom Cruise. Also don’t forget the Vice Presidents as she takes Al Gore to task, but then who hasn’t.

How about Government red tape as she finds an Underground Lunchroom in Carlsbad Caverns National Park that has outlived its time but cannot be shut down due to government bureaucracy.

As I mentioned the book is dated but makes for a wonderful read. It is an easy and quick read that should be enjoyed by government nerds as well as the amateur philosopher.
Profile Image for Vel Veeter.
3,610 reviews38 followers
April 3, 2023
One of the curses of the 2016 election is that it was like getting punched in the face. This caused a jarring and ringing, a bloody nose, and some memory loss. Plenty of people were reminding everyone to try to remember what it felt like to be in the US in 2000 and 2001 and be dealing with a very confusing and conflicting terror attack, while still reeling from the direct theft of the presidency by a corrupt supreme court, a corrupt set of officials, and worse, by a complete idiot. This book isn't really about that per se, but it is about the conflicting feelings a lot of people have about this country. I don't actually want to grow up hating the place I am from because at some point you have to reckon with the notion that its taint is a part of who you are, and how long can you exist within it before you're responsible for its crimes. Sarah Vowell narrates this experience in general terms across multiple different essays here (some that directly interrogate these feelings, some that do so indirectly, and some that don't at all) and the collection is a little random at times (as most collected editions are), but there's the constant feeling of being mired in these feelings.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,660 reviews26 followers
July 5, 2016
Hillarious. I have to read more of Vowell. Teaching future teachers how to teach social studies like I do can be serious business but Vowell will help me keep it all in perspective. She's outlandish, and sill, and just really funny. I am not sure how much sense this book would make for people outside of the US unless they are students of American culture and history. I especially love her take on Canadians, the nicest people on the planet. She manages to poke fun at them but in a very nice way. And her obsession with Teddy Roosevelt and descriptions of North Dakota are sure to rile some people up. But they made me laugh, a lot.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,649 reviews1,690 followers
July 28, 2017
I absolutely ate this book up.

I love how much Sarah Vowell loves Abraham Lincoln, how she argues for the preservation of an underground lunchroom in the Carlsbad Caverns because at the end of the day we Americans are just "a bunch of fun-loving dopes," and how she thinks more people would have liked Al Gore if he had "nerd voice" down, which would possibly have involved Joss Whedon writing all his campaign speeches.

Plus, I have this nifty autographed first edition, so, you know. Suck it and stuff.
Profile Image for Margie.
644 reviews37 followers
March 28, 2011
This was my introduction to Sarah Vowell, and I now like her very much. I know, I'm a loser for not listening to NPR more frequently, but I can't pay attention to anything else when it's on (seriously - even wash dishes), so I don't.

She's funny and smart and insightful and definitely a patriot in a way that makes me proud to know that she's a fellow countryman (countrywoman?). A patriot in the "I love my country and am willing to stand up to the groupthink that leads us astray" mold. And also a nerd. I love nerds.

Profile Image for Paige Fletcher.
38 reviews1 follower
October 15, 2020
It's a shame because she's actually a funny writer but this book is just peak tone-deaf liberalism. Not sure what was more offensive: when she implied that unlike Salem and Gettysburg with their grim and violent histories the Caribbean is simply a cheery place to vacation or when she used liking Elvis and Johnny Cash to defend American patriotism to a group of people from "something-istan I hadn't heard of" when they were complaining about US imperialism. You're not a very good "history buff" and you have shitty politics.
Profile Image for MargaretDH.
1,009 reviews17 followers
August 22, 2020
I meant to parcel this audiobook out over walks and other time outside. Instead I ripped through it in two days, listening every chance I got.

I enjoyed this a ton. Vowell loves her country, her country's history and takes a wry, yet loving look at America. It's refreshing to read a book by someone who loves their country and can talk about it warts and all, and of course it helps that Vowell is very funny, especially in her own narration. Plus, if you listen to the audiobook, you get to hear Conan O'Brian play Abraham Lincoln, and Stephen Colbert do his best Al Gore impression!

Revisiting this almost two decades after publication is interesting. Of course, much of it, like Vowell's essay on the appeal of the lunchroom in Carlsbad Caverns, or her mentions of CBC's longform radio journalism are timeless. But it was interesting to revisit Gore's defeat by Bush in light of the pandemic and current American politics. When she talks about Canadians, she talks about being slightly weirded out by the Canadian willingness to follow the rules and conform sometimes, it certainly made me think about the way masking laws have played north and south of the border. Vowell is absolutely right, though, that Canadian history is not an inspiring story.
Profile Image for Elizabeth  Higginbotham .
465 reviews13 followers
February 9, 2020
Sarah Vowell is amazing. She has a great sense of history and what it means at different historical moments. As she moved about the world, she thinks about what has happened in this place, what was made in this place, who made it, and so forth. While many people cannot contemplate history, she is a true force and can make others pay attention. Her reverence for Lincoln is a real tribute, but she also appreciates Al Gore, the nerd, and the complexities of other political figures. Reading about these past presidents and their libraries, which she visited, is a story in itself—tell the whole story, including the controversies. You cannot dress this story up, the nation was pulled apart by war, tensions and other divisions.

Sarah is also connected to her own family, even if they are different in many ways. It gets us to reflect on family and our own life spans. I loved how Sarah remembers the Watergate hearings, as a young child it was just another television program like Bonanza. Yet, maybe her attention was caught by the significant of the moment even as a young child.

I enjoy reading her material, since it pushes me to think about the history I have witnessed, as well as the material I have learned form the past before I was here. How do we remember these people and events? What control do we have and how can we push for fuller explorations? The humor is nice and it also urges one to put issues in perspective. Yes, we all have odd families
Profile Image for Ann.
56 reviews6 followers
January 4, 2020
Kind of a mixed bag of interesting things I didn’t know, boring facts I didn’t care about, and snark. Some snark was funny—as Sarah Vowell is—other times, it just seemed constant. I’m a fan of sarcasm. Too much back-to-back can be...I don’t know the right word ....irritating? I was reminded of the tv show show Two Broke Girls that I dislike for the same reason: snark overload.
I like her passion for history and her ability to parallel and compare historical mind-set to more contemporary issues and advantages. The fact that I listened on audio may have distracted me from her writing, perhaps. Which is strange because she has such an unusual voice that I enjoy listening to.
Overall, it was ok. Not sorry I listened to it.
21 reviews
February 23, 2017
Sarah Vowell is almost the exact same age I am. I ready this book many years after it was initially published but I could very much relate to the topics since I was there at the same time she was. This book is so witty and funny yet I learned so much about my favorite topic: history. I enjoy Sarah on This American Life and look forward to reading more of her books.
Profile Image for Abby.
256 reviews4 followers
July 22, 2018
I really enjoyed this essay collection and the laughs it provided. Sarah Vowell is a national treasure.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,945 reviews28 followers
March 1, 2015
Sarah Vowell is a natural storyteller and her talent is immediately apparent in this collection of radio segments from NPRs "This American Life" and from magazine contributions. Vowell has a unique perspective which I totally embrace. She muses, for example, that while many people think of Abraham Lincoln as the American Jesus, she notices that he has a little Mayor Daley mixed into his DNA. Vowell doesn't hide her political beliefs, but she retains a sense of reality and balance. In discussing Bill Clinton's failures as president--and she admits that she is a huge fan--she notes that voters in the Congressional election of 1994 punched the names of Republican candidates on their voting machines with one hand while using the other hand to give Clinton the finger. And she tells readers that President Nixon's face on television was her first memory. It was during the Watergate hearings and young Sarah Vowell thought that those hearings were a regular television show like Bonanza, Ed Sullivan, or Scooby-Doo. After visiting Nixon's Presidential Library--she has made trips to all of the presidential libraries--she reflected that while she thought Watergate was a horror and the Vietnam War was wrong that it is useful to remember that "those decisions, even the most deadly ones, were made, not by a supernatural monster, but by a real man whom we elected, a man who at least believed he was right." That's something that many Americans, myself included, should remember in these very partisan times. In exploring patriotism, Vowell wonders why she is drawn to places of bloody struggles such as Gettysburg and Salem ("Twenty innocent people were executed in Salem during the witchcraft hysteria of 1692, which is horrifying, but manages to make for a surprisingly nice weekend getaway."). She was also deeply upset by the results of the 2000 presidential election and went to the inauguration to protest. And yet she found herself sobbing as she stood on the National Mall surrounded by thousands of people singing the Star-Spangled Banner. I like Vowell's ability to stand back and dissect her own political attitudes and her love of her country shines through. An amazingly enjoyable read.
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